Welcome back to Friday afternoon. After a busy few months that saw the debut of several big series— Street Food! Chef Show! Broken Bread! — we’re entering a comparatively mellow time of the year for fans of food TV. The summer is, however, a good time to dive into the shows you may have skipped earlier this year. Which is exactly what I’m doing this week, with three recommendations from the first half of 2019 that I missed the first time around. Here are a few shows to consider putting in your summer TV queue:
A cult classic, parodied
Like all of the best episode of Documentary Now!, the two-part saga “Batsh*t Valley” manages to both parody and celebrate its source material through vivid production design and inspired comedic performances. In this case, the very real documentary is Netflix’s spellbinding, five-party saga Wild Wild Country about a cult that went on a food poisoning spree and generally disrupted the lives of residents in Antelope, Oregon during the ‘80s. The first episode of the parody hews fairly closely to the original story, while the second chapter adds a twist that takes things in a very different direction. It’s almost spooky how well the Documentary Now! team nails the look and feel of the original series.
Owen Wilson plays the cult leader here, in a role that has shades of his aloof, zonked-out author character in The Royal Tenenbaums. While the real-life leader, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, came to Oregon after developing a devoted following in his native India, Wilson’s character, Father Ra-Shawbard, gets into the cult business after his Los Angeles health food/cocaine emporium “Counter Culture” goes bust. And just like in Wild Wild Country, the leader’s power quickly gets usurped by his assistant. Playing this member of the cult, Rar-Sharir, TV character actor extraordinaire Necar Zadegan delivers a fiery performance that perfectly captures the spirit of Rajneeshpuram mastermind Ma Anand Sheela.
One of the running jokes throughout the parody is that the cult members have a bizarre relationship with health food. “The days are filled with meditation, light stretching, and meals prepared from their own garden,” a TV news reporter explains. “But here at the Shawbard Valley Ranch, the Shawbardites only eat the vegetables after the vegetables give permission.” As part of her war with the locals, Ra-Sharir installs muffler-ruining speed bumps all over town, and then turns the muffler repair shop into a juice bar. “This is America — you can’t open a juice bar in a muffler shop,” one angry neighbor complains. “I don’t care who your god is, you need permits!” As the cult’s ultimate act of sabotage, Ra-Sharir orchestrates a plan to give everyone in Oregon pink eye by contaminating the local salad bars with the virus.
Thanks to an awesome performance by Michael Keaton as an FBI agent trying to crack into the cult, the second chapter of “Batsh*t Valley” is arguably better than the first, but they collectively make for a giddily entertaining hour of TV. If you’re new to the Documentary Now! phenomenon, this is a good place to start, and if you like what you see, make sure to follow up with the Sondheim parody “Co-Op” from earlier this year, and the brilliant culinary documentary spoof “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” from Season 2.
The first three seasons of Documentary Now! are streaming on Netflix
Streaming selections du jour
Good Eats: Reloaded, “A Grind: The Reload”
The gist: Last week, Alton Brown announced that a brand new season of his hit Food Network show Good Eats is slated to launch at the end of the summer. Anyone who’s jonesing for more of Alton’s unique brand of food-science nerdery should check out this redux version of a classic Good Eats episode, which features his popular meatloaf recipe, as well as a new step-by-step guide to making Brown’s favorite at-home cheeseburgers. The host’s current recipe involves deep-frying three-ounce patties that have been smashed in a tortilla press, and putting them inside toasted brioche buns that are coated in a spicy cheese mixture. (Apparently, this is an ode to Dyer’s Burgers in Memphis, Tennessee.)
Earth Focus, “Dying Oceans — Abalone Restoration in California”
Watch it on: KCET.com
The gist: For decades, residents of Fort Bragg and nearby towns on the Northern California coast have made their living diving for red abalone. But in recent years, these shellfish have started to disappear from the area, because the kelp forests that they feed off of are declining due to rising water temperature, ocean acidification, and the sudden influx of purple urchins. This crunchy episode of KCET’s environmental docuseries looks at how local abalone harvesters are coping with these changes, and how scientists from UC Davis are trying to restore the local fisheries. Since this is primarily a science show, “Dying Oceans” is fairly dense with information, but the episode also features a lot of stunning underwater footage and shots of the Northern California coastline.
In other entertainment news…
- Anthony Bourdain’s graphic novel series with Joel Rose, Hungry Ghosts, is in development at Sony Pictures Animation as a TV series. No word yet on when or where the show will make its debut.
- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are going on another food-filled trip with director Michael Winterbottom, this time to Greece.
- The “Upside Down Whopper” is just one of the many Stranger Things-themed products being released by brands over the next few weeks.
- Filmmaker Nancy Meyers is tired of being associated with the fancy kitchens featured in her movies. “I don’t love when a journalist or critic will pick up on that aspect, because they’re missing why it works,” Meyers said in an interview with Mindy Kaling last week. “It’s never done to male directors who make gorgeous movies, or where the leads live in a gorgeous house.”
- A word of advice from my colleague Hillary Dixler: Just put Chopped on your TV.
- Chimichanga-whisperer Guy Fieri is opening two new restaurants in Hampton, Virginia: Guy’s Taco Dive and Guy’s Pizza Parlor.
- And finally, before he was Luke Skywalker, Mark Hammill got fired from Jack in the Box for pretending to be the chain restaurant’s mascot while operating the drive-thru.
Have a nice weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for a show-stopping dish to bring to any cook-outs or get-togethers this weekend (or later this summer), consider Brooks Headley’s recipe for charred broccoli salad with eggplant puree.